How preparing for labour and delivery is like training for an ultramarathon

With only 6 weeks left until my due date, I’ve started to think more about to birth experience and what, if anything, I should be doing now to prepare for labour and delivery. Since about week 32 I’ve been reading articles about labour and birth, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos of actual births, and read Ina May Gaskin’s Guild to Childbirth. So far nothing about birth is freaking me out or making me feel like I can’t do it; I find the more informed I am, the better I feel about what my body is going to go through.

I think I’m sitting in the middle of how most women feel about birth – some have detailed birth plans and want the experience to be as natural and calm as possible, others just want to get the baby out and have no issues taking all the pain interventions offered. My feeling about it is I want to go as long as possible without intervention (I seem to have a high pain tolerance), but obviously if the baby is in distress or my health is in danger, I’ll be telling them to cut me open and get him out asap.

On Wednesday night, we had a doula from Vida Doulas come to our house to do part one of a private childbirth preparation class (part two will be in a few weeks). It was extremely informative and helpful, as she walked us through all the stages of labour and what we can expect, plus what the partner can be doing during each stage to help. She also gave us a lot to think about in terms of preparing for labour and delivery, such as things to have on hand to make the experience more relaxing for me, which is what you want to do to help the baby descend into the birth canal – stress, anxiety, and even being around people with the wrong type of energy can slow or stop the progress of your labour.

I mentioned to her that I was a marathon runner, and was wondering if the experience would be similar or if I could use techniques from training for and competing in endurance events to help with labour. She said absolutely there is cross-over, and Matt could coach me the same way he did to help me get through some of my toughest moments during my hardest races. She said she had one runner client who even used gels to keep her fueled during labour, and was able to use that same mindset used when running a marathon to get her through birth without invention.

33 weeks at my baby shower last weekend!

This totally resonated with me and shifted my mindset to treat these last few weeks like I’m preparing to run a race; albeit one I will have no control over, won’t know when it starts or how long of a distance I will have to go (it sounds like the Barkley Marathon!). Any fear I had about the unknown has been replaced with that weird excited energy I used to get when a big race was a few weeks away. Here’s what I’m doing now to prepare.

How preparing for labour and delivery is like training for an ultramarathon

1)     Researching and preparing your gear. You don’t toe the starting line of an ultramarathon without knowing what you’re getting into or having the right gear if you want to have a good experience, and the same goes for birth. As I mentioned above, I’ve been reading and researching for the past few weeks about what to expect, and signed up for a birth class mainly to help Matt prepare to be my support system. As for gear, the doula said it’s good to have a bunch of tools in your tool kit to make the labour and delivery process as comfortable and calm as it can be for you. Some suggestions she gave us include:

  • A contraction timer app (which most baby/prenatal apps have – I use the Baby Center app) to help you judge when you need to call the midwife or head to the hospital
  • A meditation app like Calm or Insight Timer, which has birth-focused meditations you can listen to during the early stages of labour or during active labour
  • An exercise ball to sit on to help you bring movement into your hips and get the baby into a good birthing position
  • A cut pool noodle your partner can use to roll on your lower back to help with pain, or other massage tools
  • Calm music and headphones for the labour and delivery room (the headphones are mainly to drown out other mothers potentially in labour that may be distracting to you)
  • Lots of snacks and your own water bottle
  • Comfortable clothing (I plan on wearing my yoga maternity pants, nursing bra and my own robe)
  • A secretly stashed aromatherapy roller if scents help you relax (hospitals have a scent-free policy but if you bring a roller you should be okay)

2)      Coming up with a plan. Even though initially our plan was just to get the baby out safely, the doula mentioned it’s good to talk about inventions and support ahead of time as you will be asked questions (especially in a hospital) if an unexpected situation arises during labour and will need to make a decision. Just like coming up with a training plan for an ultramarathon to get you safely to the finish line, a birth plan can help prepare your partner to answer those hard questions for you (since you’ll obviously be distracted). The doula suggested we use the BRAIN acronym to help guide us in making a plan:

  • B – What are the benefits? How does the recommended course of action or suggestion help me, my baby, or my labour?
  • R – What are the risks? How does the recommended course of action or suggestion affect me, my baby or my labour? What other procedures may follow?
  • A – What are the alternatives? Are there any other options that I could consider? What are their benefits and risks?
  • I – What does my intuition tell me? What is my gut feeling about this course of action or suggestion? How does my partner feel?
  • N – What if I do nothing (right now)? What would be the consequence if I choose to say no or opt to wait?

Our birth plan is to use only laughing gas as an invention if I need it so I’m able to get up and walk around and eat (things you can’t do if you get an epidural or are medically induced); choose non-medical inductions methods first if I need to be induced; choose an epidural if baby is coming down sunny-side up and I have bad back labour (or I am too exhausted and can’t take it anymore); and choose a c-section if baby is in distress or my health is at risk.   

3)      Preparing your body. Unlike training for an ultramarathon,you don’t need to put in a ton of time preparing your body for labour, as it knows what to do all on its own. But there are some things you can do that COULD help make the process more manageable. Just like you should do strength training, massage, and stretching when training for an ultramarathon, you can do these things to help prepare your body for labour:

  • Doing cat-cow pose every night to help baby get into a good birthing position (head down, back facing out)
  • Sitting on a exercise ball once a day and moving your hips around to help loosen the joints
  • Going to see a chiropractor to help with hip and lower back mobility and/or acupuncturist to help move things along
  • Doing prenatal yoga
  • Staying active and going for lots of walks
  • Eating well and staying hydrated

4)      Mindset is everything. If you’re ever run an ultramarathon, marathon or even a half distance race, you’ll know how important mindset is during a race, especially if you’re gunning for a personal best. Practicing mediation, visualization and repeating positive affirmations are all techniques proven to help manage negative self-talk that can sabotage your race (I know because I’ve been there!), and the same goes for labour. Breathing through contractions, visualizing your body bringing the baby down into the birth canal and birth affirmations can help the process immensely. Here are some more tips from the doula:

  • Practice yogic breathing and meditating every day during the last few weeks before birth
  • Come up with positive affirmations to use during birth (my body knows exactly what to do, each surge brings me closer to meeting my baby, etc.)
  • Visualize how you want the labour to go

Of course, even the best birth plans, prep, tools and mindset doesn’t mean you will have a smooth labour and delivery, just like doing all the right things during ultramarathon training will mean you’ll have a stellar race. And I’m okay with that as well. I know anything can happen and I won’t be disappointed if things don’t go as planned. As long as baby boy makes it into the world healthy and safe and I’m not too beat-up in the process, I will be happy.